Added amenities make Allegheny County's North Park a popular haven

Runners, bicyclists, fishermen, and kayakers enjoy North Park Friday, August 8, 2014.
Runners, bicyclists, fishermen, and kayakers enjoy North Park Friday, August 8, 2014.
Aaron Aupperlee
| Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Kayaks dotted North Park Lake.

Parking spots around the Allegheny County park's boathouse were at a premium, and cars took advantage of the overflow lots across Pearce Mill Road.

Families unloaded fishing poles, and Jim Murtaugh quickly stashed his road bike in the back of his SUV, grabbing a hat and an iPod before heading out for a run.

“It was a busy day today,” Murtaugh said between his 12-mile bike trek and his 6.5-mile run on a mild Friday.

Murtaugh, 42, of Sewickley is training for a triathlon and recently started visiting North Park. He's one of many new faces there in recent years.

Use of North Park, the county's largest at 3,075 acres in Hampton, McCandless and Pine, has climbed in recent years as the county makes improvements and adds amenities, county officials and frequent park users said.

Visitors typically have to wait for kayaks during nice weather, said Jenn Strang, marketing director for Venture Outdoors, a nonprofit that runs boat rentals at the lake. On a nice day, all 66 boats — canoes, kayaks, row boats — are on the water.

Revenue from renting shelters, buildings and fields is up $33,000 compared with last year's total of $162,270, said county spokeswoman Amie Downs, despite a more stringent reservation policy recently enacted by County Council. Attendance at the park's pool and tee times at the golf course are steady with years past, Downs said.

The popularity of the privately run OTB Cafe at the boathouse, the Go Ape zipline course and kayak rentals caused a parking shortage in the spring and forced the county to build spaces.

The county built shelters and playgrounds, said Gary Rigdon, chairman of the Friends of North Park. A project to repave the Lake Shore Drive section of the park's five-mile loop around the lake recently finished.

“There's been a steady list of improvements that have been made to the park in the last couple of years,” Rigdon said. “It's become a more attractive destination.”

A facelift for the park will start after Labor Day. The county, the Allegheny County Parks Foundation and PennDOT are collaborating on a $2 million project to repave Ingomar Road and repave and widen the trail beside it. Crews are replacing a water main — a $200,000 project, records show — under the road, a first step in the project, said Ron Schipani, the foundation's capital projects manager.

North Park has been a destination for the Strafalace family for decades. Years ago, Larry Strafalace, 55, of Reserve would lead his sons on hikes in the woods. No one else was out there, he said.

A son runs the kitchen at the boathouse, and active mountain bike trails crisscross the woods. Strafalace took his grandson kayaking twice and on Friday played with him on one of the park's newest playgrounds.

“I don't know if it's a minus or a plus with more people,” Strafalace said. “But it's still North Park. It's still a place to go get away.”

Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or

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